A social worker's perspective

Jim Thurkle, social worker

"When I first met the producers and they explained the type of film they wanted to make I felt instantly it was the right thing to do. Their focus was all about getting across how mental illness can affect anybody at any time and I was so keen to capture this in a programme.

The producers were always highly professional with a real knowledge and understanding of confidentiality issues which out me at ease immediately.

As a social worker I have sometimes been called a detective and sometimes it does feel that way – I am often seen out knocking on doors and trying to locate patients. The camera followed me doing that and in the end I forgot they were there and just went about my daily work.

My job is highly rewarding but obviously there are times when it is distressing. There are many patients where relapse is inevitable and that’s really sad. I think it is important people can see the ‘revolving door’ situation in mental health as this is not fully understood – many people become ill, get better through care and treatment and fall ill again. That’s the nature of mental illness but there are also very positive stories of people who fully recover and use their experience to help others.

I have become really familiar with the people I look after over the years and there are some real characters. It can take some time to build up trust but I think the best policy is to be as open and honest as possible with them. Despite what others may sometimes think, people who are mentally ill are not stupid.

The hardest part is taking away some one’s liberty, that is when we, as a team, make a decision to section someone. This never gets easier but there are times it is the only action left to take. When I see these patients get better they are actually quite accepting of me doing this, they realise they were unwell and there was little alternative. It is incredibly fulfilling to see those people back with family or in the community, that really makes me happy.

I come across a number of mental illnesses but mainly I deal with depressive moods and the factors that cause them. I deal with many people using a sense of humour, I try to tap into that but sometimes that is not always appropriate when some one is depressed. It is about judging every individual and situation.

The patients I worked with loved being on camera. They really came out of themselves and that was a joy to see. For me, being filmed made me think about my job, it made me evaluate what I do and that can’t be a bad thing."

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